Queen's University

Reforming University Council to meet the needs of the 21st century

University Council is changing to meet the needs of the University, and as Councillor Ellen Henderson, Arts'70, PhD’76, explains, there’s no better time for alumni to have their say in its future.

Here’s a quick quiz for you: Queen’s University has what form of governance?

Is it a unicameral system? Bicameral? Or tricameral? Stumped? Well, don’t be embarrassed if you are. Most alumni are likely in the same boat.

As one of the few universities in Canada to be governed by a Royal Charter passed by the Parliament of Canada, Queen’s is also one of the few universities in this country to operate with a tricameral governance structure that is composed of the Senate, the Board of Trustees, and ­University Council.

The University charter dates from October 1841The University's Royal charter dates from 1841 (Queen's University Archives photo)

Under an 1874 provision of the Royal Charter that governed the composition and size of University Council, membership was prescribed as all Senators and members of the Board of Trustees and an equal number of elected alumni. Recent moves to reform the Board and the ­University Council meant a return to Parliament in 2011 to gain “home rule” over governance matters, in particular the size and composition of Council. This ­provides us with the opportunity to ensure our entire governance structure is relevant, strong and well-equipped to support Queen’s goals and ­aspirations.

The Board of Trustees has recently been streamlined, with the intent of an eventual ­reduction in size to 25. This will be accomplished over the next few years. With a more focused membership, University Council will be charged with the task of electing six of the 25 Trustees from the alumni community – a significant increase in governance responsibility. To meet that mandate, and to ensure Council remains a meaningful experience for Councillors and provides value to Queen’s, Council has established a road map to reform.

Recent initiatives under the expert guidance of ­Professor Emeritus (Engineering Physics/Astronomy) Bill McLatchie and V-P (Advancement) Tom Harris, Sc’75, as well as the in-depth facilitated session at our 2012 Annual meeting led by Prof. Scott Carson of the School of Business, have begun to focus on ways to redefine the form and function of Council.

The final step in this reform process is being undertaken by a group of Councillors under the direction of the Council Executive. The group is chaired by Councillor Alison Holt, Artsci’87, and includes representatives from the Senate, the Board of Trustees, the University administration, and five elected members of Council chosen by the members themselves.

“We intend to consult extensively with Councillors and to draw on the thoughtful work that’s already been done,” Holt says. ”There’s an enormous enthusiasm among Councillors to make a substantive contribution to our alma mater. Our job – in consultation with all alumni – is to propose the best way to get there, and to lay out a plan for the University Council to discuss and endorse at our 2013 meeting.”

The timelines for this final step include consulting on proposed reforms with Councillors in early winter, communicating ­recommendations to the broader alumni community, and culminating with a vote on the Council reform plan in April 2013. The first session of the newly constituted Council will take place in the fall of 2013.

For more on how the University Council is planning to transform itself to meet the needs and challenges of the 21st century, please watch future editions of the ­Review or visit the Council web site on the University Secretariat home page (please see the URL below).

If you have specific questions or comments about this process, please contact Alison Holt at holta266@gmail.com.

Ottawa resident Ellen Henderson is an elected Councillor and member of the ­University Council Executive. – Ed.

Queen's Alumni Review, 2012 Issue #4Queen's Alumni Review
2012 Issue #4
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